Why proper onboarding at your bank matters

Welcoming new employees into your community bank can be an important part of your hiring and staff retention strategy. Bank recruiters say onboarding programs serve as opportunities to introduce new hires to your bank’s culture and to keep them happy and engaged.

By Carol Patton


Within a new hire’s first 10 days, a member of Frost Bank’s learning and development team welcomes them and answers any questions about the community bank’s corporate culture, peer or management networks, and employee expectations.

During their first month, new hires also attend onboarding workshops “that traditionally might not be offered to employees within their first 90 days of employment,” says Candace Wolfshohl, group executive vice president for culture and people development at the $32.8 billion-asset community bank in San Antonio, Texas, which has 4,600 employees at more than 130 branches throughout the state. “That’s something we’re proud of. Not only are we investing in them, but we’re investing in them early.”

Some onboarding programs intentionally step out of bounds. By quickly immersing new hires into their corporate philosophies and cultures, community banks are able to boost employee retention and engagement at a time when the national unemployment rate is 3.7%, its lowest point in nearly 50 years.

Frost Bank’s onboarding program will be rolled out to the entire organization by March. It strongly emphasizes the community bank’s three guiding principles: culture, community and contribution. The yearlong program consists of five workshops that address Frost Bank’s corporate philosophy, how the new employee can develop meaningful professional relationships and how they can contribute to the success of the bank and the communities it serves.

Meanwhile, Wolfshohl says Frost Bank is piloting a buddy system in its Houston branches. New hires can also take advantage of two paid community service days—a popular benefit, she adds—starting their first day on the job.

Typically, Frost Bank hires 650 new staff each year, but 900 were onboarded in 2018, possibly due to growth and employee retirement, she says. “[New hires] are just impressed with the opportunities they get,” says Wolfshohl, adding that they’re excited about volunteering early on in their career. “They feel Frost is investing in them more than their prior employer ever had.”

Introduce your bank and its values

Last year, $12.2 billion-asset Banner Bank, headquartered in Walla Walla, Wash., hired roughly 600 people, which represents nearly one-quarter of its workforce. Yet, the community bank’s turnover rate falls well below the industry’s average attrition rate of 40%.

The community bank has roughly 2,200 employees and operates 190 branches throughout Washington, California, Oregon and Idaho. Considering its geographically diverse locations, Banner Bank recently developed employee orientation webinars that it offers twice a month for new hires and their managers, says Cameron Ericksen, a talent acquisitions manager in Spokane, Wash.

The webinars focus on the company’s history, mission, values, key leadership, culture and high-level strategic priorities. The live, 90-minute program engages participants with fun questions, such as asking their favorite foods, plus they can chat with human resources staff.

Ericksen says the orientations and Banner Banks’s digital resource center for new hires help the community bank capitalize on the enthusiasm of new, impressionable employees by delivering accurate, insightful information about its culture and accomplishments.

As community banks grow and scale, Ericksen says onboarding can quickly sink to the bottom of their priority list. Not at Banner Bank. After 60 days, the bank surveys new employees about the webinar and initial job satisfaction, and their managers respond to questions about the quality of the hire.

Based on feedback, the bank tweaked the webinars, switching the topic order, for example. Ericksen says they hope to soon bake new learning opportunities into workshops to help managers better integrate new employees into the organization.

“Onboarding is so important because it’s such a strong driver of retention in the first year,” he says. “If we fail to bring new hires into the organization or show them what separates and distinguishes Banner Bank from our competition, they’ll be more apt to leave.”

“Onboarding is so important because it’s such a strong driver of retention in the first year.”
—Cameron Ericksen, Banner Bank

Why first impressions matter

Onboarding must also deal with practical matters. When MidFirst Bank hires someone, an automated system triggers the community bank’s technology group to set them up with equipment like computers and phones, says Lorri Darrah, first vice president and director of staffing at the $20 billion-asset community bank in Oklahoma City.

Winning workplaces

Look out for Independent Banker’s December issue to see who earned the title of Best Community Banks to Work For.

MidFirst Bank, which has more than 2,600 employees in roughly 70 banking centers throughout Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado and California, gifts new hires with branded merchandise like shirts and phone chargers. The bank’s employee orientation includes a get-to-know-you session, Darrah says, so employees don’t feel so isolated. Participants develop a big-picture perspective by learning how they and their department connect with others.

Some branches sponsor new hire lunches or monthly celebrations. The community bank surveys all new hires on their first day about the recruitment and selection process. Then, every month for the next six months, MidFirst Bank checks in on their experiences with training and work.

Darrah believes that today’s dynamic job market demands employers to be more responsive to job candidates and employees.

“We need to keep up and stay current with people’s expectations,” she says. “We’re investing a lot of time to get them here and want them to stay here because they feel like they’re connected.”


Carol Patton is a writer in Nevada.

Top